Prior to the successful passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, Howard Jarvis tried several times to bring property tax relief to beleaguered California homeowners. While coming close, it wasn’t until 1978 when voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 13 over the opposition of virtually every political institution and newspaper in California.
As they say, timing is everything. What changed the political dynamic so abruptly in 1978 was the fact that thousands of California homeowners were being taxed out of their homes. That also explains why, to this day, Proposition 13 retains its popularity even as the state has become more “progressive.”
Last week there were two competing press events over Assembly Constitutional Amendment 1 (ACA 1), a proposal that would erase part of Proposition 13. As the head of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, I was joined at a news conference on the Capitol’s west steps on Wednesday by several legislators who have unequivocally expressed their continued support for Proposition 13 and opposition to ACA 1. Also present were several representatives of other taxpayer groups as well as business organizations suffering under California’s excessive tax burdens.
ACA 1 is a direct attack on Proposition 13 because it would cut the vote threshold needed to pass local special taxes, dropping it from the current two-thirds vote required by Proposition 13 to only 55%. That change would make it easier for local governments to raise taxes.
Since Proposition 13 was enacted in 1978, voters have continued to support the important two-thirds vote protection. That support was reaffirmed with the passage of pro-taxpayer initiatives in 1986, 1996 and 2010.
Many people may not know that the two-thirds vote requirement did not originate in 1978. It has been in the California Constitution since 1879! For more than a century, local property owners have been protected against excessive bond debt by the requirement that local bonds – repaid only by property owners – need a two-thirds vote of the local electorate.
ACA 1 repeals the two-thirds vote protection for tax increases to support “infrastructure,” a term so expansive that local governments would be able to raise taxes for almost any purpose with a vote of just 55% of the electorate. This is a hatchet that chops away at the taxpayer protections in Proposition 13.
ACA 1 proponents are aware of Prop. 13’s enduring popularity, so not once in their over one-hour press event did they mention Proposition 13 by name. Instead, they talked about “protecting democracy,” “local control,” and taking on “right-wing interests.” (Are Californians “right wing” for wanting to keep their home instead of being taxed out of it?) Nor did the supporters of ACA 1 provide any specific example of exactly what lowering the two-thirds vote would purchase, other than to claim that it was essential to address California’s dual crises of housing and homelessness.
Opponents of ACA 1 have noted that making it easier to raise taxes makes no sense in one of the highest taxed states in America. No other state comes close to California’s 13.3% top marginal income tax rate, and we also have the highest state sales tax in America as well as the highest gas tax, not to mention gas prices. And even with Prop. 13, we rank 14th out of 50 states in per capita property tax collections. Californians pay enough.
This is a critical time. As of this writing, ACA 1 has cleared one legislative committee and may be heard by the full Assembly as early as this week. However, its main proponent, Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, admitted at her press conference that she didn’t quite have the votes yet. For that reason, the time is now for all defenders of Proposition 13 and advocates for limited taxation to contact their Assembly representatives and let them know that a vote for ACA 1 is a vote against Proposition 13.
This issue is so important to the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association that we will withhold our endorsement from any current legislator who fails to vote no on ACA 1.
To contact your Assembly representative to let them know you want them to protect Proposition 13, look up their name and contact information at findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.